What if Business Publications became venture investors?

It is common for finance and business publication to try and evaluate which startups will be the most successful in the coming years; but what if one would invest following the business magazines advises?

In this article we will simulate venture investments followed by  predictive articles across 4 different publications, chosen for their size and influence in the startup space, namely: Money.CNN (1), Business Insider (2), Forbes (3), and Mashable (4).

Articles between 2009 and 2012 will be up for scrutiny, with the below rationale:

  • The year range is chosen based on what is considered a normal exit time (7+ years of time) alongside our expert’s criteria; for the purpose of a startup investor, the company needs to have a degree of exit in a respectable timeframe.
  • The criteria by which the companies will be evaluated for their success will be based on acquisitions and IPOs. If a company has a favorable exit it will be considered a success, defined as a 3x factor minimum on its total investment. Companies that lack in sale numbers and deal terms for their acquisition will also not be considered as successes and will be discarded for the sake of fair comparison.

In terms of numbers, the metrics for success are as follows:

  • 3x exit over the total sum of capital invested
  • Any form of IPO exit

Obviously, our estimation is very rough – as it extremely difficult to normalize many different venture variables; but it does give the sense of reliability of the most popular magazines – pursuing our article’s goal.

Another important note is that “Success” and “Failure” are used here in the context of invested venture capital; and not necessarily defining success or failure of a startup as a company.  


Business Insider


Business Insider presents a wide variety and number of startups as part of their articles. In particular, the two articles considered (5)(6) bring forward 20 startups from 2011 and 22 startups from 2012. As shown below, this is indicative of a more “spray and pray” approach; their actual degree of accuracy when considering successes is lower than the others.

“The 20 Best New Startups of 2011”

- Successes (2): Simple, General Assembly

- Failures (16): Lytro, Betterwork, Zaarly, Turntble.fm, Oink, Giftly, GetAround, SkillShare, CodeCademy, Sphero, Goodsie, Chloe+Isabel, Warby Parker, WeWork, TheVerge, KogetoDot

- Undisclosed acquisitions (1): SoJo Studios


  • Simple: Raised $15.3m, exited at $117m with a 7.7x on investment
  • General Assembly: Raised $11.9m, exited with a 3.5x on investment


  • Betterwork, Zaarly, Giftly, GetAround, Skillshare, Codecademy, Sphero, Warby Parker, WeWork and The Verge all had no exits.
  • Lytro, Turntble.fm, Oink, Goodies, Chloe+Isabel and Kogeto Dot all ceased their operations
  • Fab: Raised $336.3m, had its team acquired for $15m

Undisclosed acquisitions

  • Sojo Studios: All its games have been acquired by Zynga for an undisclosed amount

“The 22 Best New Startups of 2012”

  • Successes (2): SmartThings, Branch
  • Failures (15): Medium, Sherpaa, Circa, Clever, Clear, UrbanCompass, RebelMouse, uBeam, Highlight, GumRoard, Mixel, MoviePass, Upworthy, Pebble, Ouya
  • Undisclosed Acquisitions (5): Fifthytree, LuaTechnologies, 42Floors, Brewster, Chromatik

Delving into the individual cases, the results are as follows:


  • SmartThings: Raised a total of $15.5m and had an exit of $200m for a 12.9x on its investment
  • Branch: Raised a total of $2m, with a $15m exit for a 7.5x investment


  • Medium, Clever, Clear, UrbanCompass, RebelMouse, uBeam, Upworthy: All had no exits yet; with uBeam having to face a down round and Upworthy being merged into a larger company to survive
  • Sherpaa: Faced internal issues both with its CEO and VC board and was rebuilt from the ground up to not need any VC influence after removing them from the board
  • MoviePass and GumRoad: Ceased operations, probably due to a lack of funds
  • Mixel and Ouya: The original launch of their product failed, and assets/team were sold off
  • Circa: Raised $4.7m followed by a $800k exit
  • Pebble: Raised $63.3m followed by a $40m exit

Unknown Acquisitions

  • Fifthytree, LuaTechnologies, 42 Floors, Brewster and Chromatik: All had acquisitions but there is little to no info on their sales and less on the deal terms; so, it’s not pertinent nor evaluable to our considerations



Success Rate

Average ROI











In the above table and all subsequent, unknown resolutions for startups have been excluded. Alongside the above assumption, the percentage of companies and their average ROI (assuming an equal investment in each venture) are being utilized as a benchmark to evaluate the publication’s success. IPOs are included if information regarding their total sales is available.

By far, Business Insider shows both the lowest success rate of the presented companies and the lowest ROI, with an average below 1, a net loss on investment. The results are surprising since some of the recommendations come from internal competition. Overall, not worth to follow BI advice.




Forbes in the past has structured their startup lists differently; in this case, the articles presented (7)(8)(9) have been considered as a single batch due to all being released in 2012. The articles analyzed also show an interesting trend; one of the three comes from an external collaborator from Quora; but as it has been officially posted on their website it will be taken at face value.

  • Successes (10): Uber, Nest Labs, Brainstorm, Instagram, 2tor, Pinterest, AirBnB, Square, Zappos.com, Docstoc
  • Failures (13): Fab.com, Form1, Warby Parker, Kickstarter, Getaround, Storenvy, Noodle, Codename One, Farmigo, ClickFox, GlobalGiving, Betterworks, Betterplace
  • Unknow acquisitions (1): RecycleBank


  • Uber: Raised $24.7b with an IPO for $82.4b, for a factor of 3.3x on investment
  • Brainstorm: Raised $51.6m with an IPO for $175m, for a factor of 3.4x on investment
  • Pinterest: Raised $1.5b with an IPO for $1.43b, for a factor of 0.9x on investment
  • Square: Raised $590.5m with an IPO for $243m, for a factor of 0.4x on investment
  • Nest Labs: Raised $80m with an exit for $3.2b, for a 40x factor on investments
  • Instagram: Raised $57.5m with an exit for $1.2b, for a factor of 20.9x on investment
  • com: Raised $62.8m, with a $1.2b exit, for a factor of 19.1x on investment
  • Docstoc: Raised $4m, with a $50m exit, for a factor of 12.5x on investment


  • Form1, Warby Parker, Kickstarter, Getaround, Noodle, Codename One, ClickFox, GlobalGiving, Betterworks: None had an exit yet
  • Storenvy: amidst accusations against the CEO, he was replaced in the company; this his their bottom line. No exit yet.
  • Farmigo: Ceased their operations
  • AirBnB: Delayed IPO due to COVID-19
  • com: Raised $336.3m, $15m exit for a factor of 0.04x on investment
  • Betterplace: Declared Bankruptcy and ceased its operations

Unknow Acquisitions

  • Recyclebank was acquired for an undisclosed amount by RTS
  • 2tor was acquired for an undisclosed amount by Sachem



Success Rate

Average ROI

Overall 2012




Forbes shows the highest success rate and highest ROI despite the first of the three articles coming from an external contributor. In particular, the focus of the list was to bring forward more mature companies, explaining the higher degree of accuracy and ROI. Worth following Forbes’s lists for VCs and Angels that invest in later stage companies, not for early stages and for investors that don’t expect quick exits; there were several companies that resulted in IPOs.




For Mashable, 2 articles were considered: the first from 2010 (10) and the second from 2012 (11). Both articles are chosen based on the similarity to the above publications despite Mashable not being a financially oriented news website.

“6 Promising New Companies that emerged in 2010”

  • Successes (2): Instagram, Shopkick
  • Failures (4): Quora, FormSpring, Kik, GetGlue
  • Unknown (0): None


  • Instagram: Raised $57.5m with an exit for $1.2b, for a factor of 20.9x on investment
  • ShopKick: Raised $26.7m with an exit for $200m, for a factor of 7.5x on investment


  • Quora and GetGlue had no exits
  • FormSpring has ceased operations before an exit
  • Kik had a ICO and the company is still in court to answer for the way they handled it


“6 Startups to Watch in 2012”

  • Successes (2): LevelUp, Eventbrite
  • Failures (4): Skillshare, Zaarly, Dwolla, Codecademy
  • Unknown (0): None


  • LevelUp: Raised $107.8 with an exit for $390m, for a factor of 3.6x on investment
  • Eventbrite: Raised $557.3m with an IPO for $230m, for a factor of 0.41x on investment


  • Skillshare, Zaarly, Dwolla and Codecademy have not had an exit yet



Success Rate

Average ROI











Middle of the litter in terms of the analyzed publications. 1 in 4 successful companies had an IPO. The peculiarity is that the 2010 article is only based on companies that were founded in 2010 itself; despite the limitation, it shows a high average ROI – but the 2012 article shows net losses on the proposed companies, despite the IPO. The disparity in companies moved forward between the years moved me to not suggest following the ventures moved forward.




For CNN, the two examined articles are mainly tech-related (12)(13) as they were presented in the same format as the previous outlet’s articles, from 2010 and 2012 respectively.

“Silicon stars: 2010’s boldface tech startups”

  • Successes (3): Heroku, Instagram, Groupon
  • Failures (2): GiltGroupe, Flipboard
  • Unknown (0): None


  • Heroku: Raised $13m with an exit for $212m, for a factor of 16.3x
  • Instagram: Raised $57.5m with an exit for $1.2b, for a factor of 20.9x on investment
  • Groupon: Raised $1.4b with an IPO for $700m, for a factor of 0.5x on investment


  • GiltGroupe: Raised $286m with an exit for $250m, for a factor of 0.93x
  • Flipboard had no exit

“6 hot startups to watch”

  • Successes (1): Locu
  • Failures (5): Uberconference, Microstylus, Outbid, Incident’sgTar, ARK
  • Unknown (0): None


  • Locu: Raised $4.6m with an exit for $70m, for a factor of 15.2x


  • Uberconference, Incident’s gTar and Ark had no exits
  • Outvid: Pivoted and rebranded as a non-VC play
  • Microstylus ceased operation



Success Rate

Average ROI











Money.CNN has average statistics slightly higher than Mashable; but has a higher consistency in the companies presented across the two analysed years. Good ventures moved forward overall.




Overall, Forbes and Money.CNN are by far the most trustable; with Mashable being unreliable between years and Business Insider having poor performance on the ventures moved forward.

Overall, considering average annual return of 15% to 27% by the top quartile of VC funds, we can conclude that top business magazines are somewhere in the first and second quartile of a venture industry firms.